George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joel Barlow, 24 April 1790

From Joel Barlow

Paris 24 April 1790


The Marquis de Marnasia, who will do me the honor to wait on your Excellency with this, is a gentleman of great respectability, a member of the national Assembly, & enjoys considerable fortune.1 He & many others are transfering their property to the United States, and are going to settle themselves on the Ohio near the Scioto. He requests me to take the liberty to announce to your Excellency their intentions, & to solicit for them your countenance & protection. I am confident of the good dispositions of these emigrants, that they will be industrious peaceable citizens & well attached to the Government under which they have chosen to reside. The Scioto Company for whom I act, has made sales of lands to a considerable number who are already gone & to many others who will soon follow them. I think it a fortunate circumstance for the interest of the United States that an agent for the sale of lands happened to be here at the time of this revolution in France. Great emigrations from this country must take place, and of consequence from many other parts of Europe, where the same spirit of emigration must inevitably extend. In governments so full of ancient & complicated abuses, & in countries so full of inhabitants, it is in the nature of such reforms to render numbers of people of all classes uneasy with their situation. The rich cannot repair their shattered fortunes nor the poor find employment in any other country in Europe after leaving their own. There is therefore almost a physical necesity for their going to America. The United States is that part of America to which they are invited by the excellence of our government, and they are attracted to the Ohio by the excellence of the soil & climate. The vacant lands in that country offer to these people the very succour & consolation which they want, to render happy themselves & their posterity, under the administration of a government, which is regarded through Europe as the wisest & happiest in the world. It is doubtless for the interest of the United States (& I think it now in their power) to sink a considerable portion of the public debt by the sale of lands, & to introduce inhabitants, provided they are industrious. I think there can be no doubt of the good intentions of such men as purchase to go & cultivate for themselves, nor of the honest character of such hired laborers as they choose to accompany them. and none but people of these two classes will go.

I ask your Excellency’s pardon for the trouble of so long a letter. As the object of it promises to be of considerable magnitude, I thought it a duty I owed to your station as the guardian of my country’s welfare, as well as the dictate of personal veneration & respect, to make the communication to you in this early stage of the business. with every sentiment of gratitude & respect, I have the honor to be Sir your Excellency’s obet & most humble servt

J. Barlow


For Joel Barlow’s role in the Scioto Company, see Louis Le Bègue de Presle Duportail to GW, 10 Feb. 1790, and notes.

1Claude-François-Adrien, marquis de Lézay-Marnésia (1735–1800), was a philosopher of wide-ranging interests. An advocate of legal and agricultural reform, he abolished the corvée on his own estate and wrote a number of works on natural history; he also published poetry, a novel, contributed to the Encyclopédie, and composed a ballet. As a member of the Estates General, he supported equal taxation and the abolition of feudal privileges. Marnésia was among the original “Twenty-four” who founded the Scioto Company in France. In late 1790 he left France, along with workingmen, farmers, and artists he had gathered to settle on land acquired from the company. This visionary project foundered when the Scioto Company failed to fulfill its contract, although Marnésia’s Lettres écrites des rivers de l’Ohio (Fort Pitt, 1801) indicates that the author still hoped to recoup his fortunes in America. In April 1792 Marnésia submitted a petition to Congress asking for a right of preemption to land on the Mississippi where he proposed establishing a settlement for French emigrants (Petitions, Memorials, and Other Documents Submitted for the Consideration of Congress, description begins U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Energy and Commerce. Petitions, Memorials and Other Documents Submitted for the Consideration of Congress, March 4, 1789 to December 14, 1795. Washington, D.C., 1986. description ends 158). The petition was submitted to a committee but apparently without result as Marnésia returned to France before the end of 1792. During his time in America, he evidently associated primarily with Royalist refugees from the regime in France, since one correspondent of Edmund Charles Genet lists him among French “gangrenous aristocrats” in Philadelphia (Childs, French Refugee Life, description begins Frances Sergeant Childs. French Refugee Life in the United States, 1790–1800: An American Chapter of the French Revolution. Baltimore, 1940. description ends 49, 163.)

Another letter of recommendation for Marnésia came to GW from Louis Le Bègue de Presle Duportail. Duportail wrote GW on 27 April 1790 from Paris that “the revolution which takes place now in france has altered so much the situation of a certain Class of people that many of them disgusted with their native country determine to live in another. of that number is the marquis Marnesia who is to cross the atlantic and become the fellow cityzen of your excellency. his choice is a proof that he is not an ennemy to true liberty and a reasonable equality of the men. it may then seem extraordinary the marquis leaves france in this circumstance but probably he finds the french men have mistaken the liberty and is afraid that class of people who was really so much oppressed and so comptemptuously treated by the government and the nobility being reintegrated too rapidly and without degrees in their wrights will be disposed to exercise their veangeance againts the first class so that liberty justice will not be for her alone. I hope it will not be Case, but those who thinck otherwise have arguments and (we must Confess it) examples to justify their gloomy Conjectures. however it be, the marquis is a very Cleaver, sensible, good gentleman, and as I am persuaded that your excellency will find him such when you will make acquaintance with him I beg you to recommend him in Virginia and in the Country of the ohio where he intends to make a settlement. if he finds himself there as well as he hopes; a great number of frenchmen Intend to follow his example. I cannot but approve of them. where can one man live more happi than under the governement of the united states. the americains seem to me to show themselves wiser than the old europeans notwistanding all their experience” (DLC:GW).

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